KYIV (Reuters) – Several hundred members of Russia’s Wagner private mercenary group have returned to eastern Ukraine to fight but are not having a significant impact on the battlefield, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said.
Wagner fighters played an important role in Russia’s capture of the eastern city of Bakhmut in May after one of the longest and fiercest battles of Moscow’s 19-month war in Ukraine.
They left Bakhmut after the battle and some went to Belarus under a deal that ended a brief mutiny by Wagner in June, during which it took control of a Russian military headquarters and marched on Moscow.
Since Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed on Aug. 23 when a private jet in which he was traveling crashed in unexplained circumstances, the Kremlin has sought to bring the group under tighter state control. Russian military bloggers have reported that some Wagner fighters have been returning to Ukraine.
“We have recorded the presence of a maximum of several hundred fighters of the former Wagner PMC (private military company),” Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern military command, said.
He added that Wagner fighters were scattered in different places, were not part of a single unit, and had had no significant impact.
“They do not constitute any integral, systematic, organized force,” Cherevatyi said. “As they say – game over. These are pathetic remnants, nothing good awaits them here.”
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Wagner no longer existed.
“Today, there are only former militants of the terrorist group who have scattered in all directions,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
He said some had gone to Africa, some were dispersed through Russia, and some had contracts with the Russian Defence Ministry and were fighting in the Bakhmut sector.
Reports of their return were intended to drown out news of Ukraine’s recapture of two villages near Bakhmut, he said.
Ukraine says it destroyed 34 of 44 drones launched by Russia
Ukraine’s Air Force said on Thursday its air defence systems shot down 34 of 44 Shahed drones that Russia launched overnight, while a regional official said no casualties were caused by the attack.
“Fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft missile units and mobile fire groups were engaged to repel the attack,” the military said on the Telegram messaging app.
Odesa regional governor Oleh Kiper said his region was the main target, but the attack left no casualties.
“Our air defence forces did an excellent job,” Kiper said on Telegram.
“No hits or destruction. There were no casualties. There were only a few small fires on dry grass as a result of the falling wreckage of the downed Shahed.”
Ukraine’s southern seaport region of Odesa has suffered Russian drone and missile attacks since July, when Russia left a UN-brokered grain export deal that allowed Kyiv to ship its grain abroad.